The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted trade association
representatives, labor consultants, attorneys and political staffers
on Wednesday for a briefing on "worker centers" as partners and
sometimes replacements of traditional labor unions.
"Unions have come to view worker centers as critical to their
long-term future," said Glenn Spencer of the chamber's Workforce
The term "worker center" is a catch-all used to describe everything
from community organizations that provide job training and other
services to formal labor union affiliates.
A chamber report released Wednesday says that as these new groups
become more entrenched in the labor movement, they could lead to a
"significant paradigm shift" in U.S. labor law.
In the United States, labor unions must have the support of a
majority of employees in order to bargain on behalf of workers and
negotiate with employers. Other countries allow unions to bargain on
behalf of only those workers who choose to join, even if they only
represent a minority of workers.
But worker centers advocate for workers without going through the
traditional union-election process and do not have to show majority
support. It could allow the minority representation model to gain
traction with U.S. regulators, the chamber said.
"That's a completely different model than the way our system works
currently," Littler Mendelson attorney Stefan Marculewicz said at
the chamber event at its Washington, D.C. headquarters.
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Groups such as OUR Walmart, which has planned protests at Walmart
stores, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), which has
pushed for paid sick leave and higher wages in restaurants, show how
this could occur, according to the report.
The OUR Walmart protests, typically scheduled on busy shopping days,
are meant to pressure Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the country's largest
retailer, to raise workers' wages. But the group has not shown it
has the support of most workers at the protest locations, the
chamber report said.
OUR Walmart representatives did not respond to requests for comment
on the chamber report.
Marculewicz estimated there are 400 to 500 active U.S. worker
centers. Some are grassroots groups that provide language training
and healthcare; others target a certain employer or industry. Some
are a hybrid of the two.
The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. labor unions, has since
2006 allowed worker centers to become formal affiliates. In 2011,
the National Taxi Workers' Alliance, one of the first workers to
affiliate, became an official AFL-CIO member.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa
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